It’s time to confront ageism in spirituality. To have true connection, we have to value our Elders and include them in our lives. Modern society marginalizes older people. “We don’t value you” and “We don’t want to be you” is hidden in our language, advertising, and behavior. Here is what I mean:
- Advertisers use the fear of aging to sell products. They focuses on fighting aging, as if it’s something to avoid.
- Rich and healthy older people who live in gated communities on golf courses are glamorized in the media. Everyone else is invisible. The message is, if you are a burden, get lost.
- Store merchandise focuses on youth and pop culture. If older people “dress young” they can be told to act their age, but stores don’t have hip, fashionable clothes for older people. There is no fashion world for this demographic.
- There are lots of coming of age books and movies that help teens transition into adulthood. Very few deal with transitioning into elderhood. Even when they do exist, they aren’t popular. We don’t care.
- To many “crone” has a negative connotation. It means hag, ugly, lonely, and depressed. For women especially, being old is like a curse of uselessness and unproductivity. Other phrases like “senior moment” and “you look great for your age” also convey that being older is undesirable and less valuable.
- 57% of Europeans believe that older people contribute little to society. Perhaps this is why as people age, they have a harder time getting a job, make less money, and can slide into poverty despite their education and skill level. Only 47% of people aged 55 to 64 are able to re-enter the workforce after losing their job.
- The American Geriatrics Society says there are only about 7,600 physicians nationwide certified as geriatric specialists. We need 36,000 by 2030.
Age discrimination impacts all of us in practical and spiritual ways. Here are some statistics:
- People with positive attitudes about the older generations are 44% more likely to fully recover from a severe disability when compared to those with negative attitudes.
- In one survey, those who heavily criticize seniors had a 30% greater decline in their own memory 40 years later.
- Those with more positive self-perceptions of aging live 7.5 years longer than those with negative self-perceptions of aging.
- In one study, 25% of people who held negative stereotypes of the senior demographic had a heart attack 30 years later. Just 13% of people who held a positive view of seniors had the same issue.
- Yale School of Public Health shows that when younger people talk about seniors as “a burden,” make ugly jokes about the physical changes of aging, or hold unflattering stereotypes of the worth of older people, they reduce their own chances of healthy aging.
- In one study, 62% of children said they learned about older people from their grandparents. Other research has shown that children who know an older person well tend to portray older people in more positive ways.
- Another study showed that those who are exposed to older people have less anxiety about death. This includes just looking at pictures of older people!
The wheel of life always turns. When we are not exposed to elders, we don’t learn how to age with dignity. Being older becomes scary and something to be avoided. If we separate ourselves from our older family, we don’t have relationships that form the bridge from where we are to where we are going. This is huge issue that creates a domino effect. Children don’t know how to be adults. Adult don’t know how to be elders. Elders don’t learn how to transition. We see this all around us, don’t we?
Here’s how we can change this dynamic one person at a time.
- Talk to your elders. Listen to their stories. Ask for advice. Be polite. Ask about their lives, traditions, and heritage. These are your stories too!
- Tell older people that you appreciate and respect them. Show your gratitude.
- Honor elders by opening doors, letting them eat first, or putting them in a place of esteem in some way.
- Offer to do little things like clean their glasses, do their grocery shopping for them, or make their bed. If they have mobility issues, this is a huge help.
- Be patient. Let them take their time.
- Watch a movie together. Read a book. Then talk about it. Engaging in conversation is mentally stimulating, but it also helps you to connect to other ideas and get to know each other.
- Ask your elders to show you skills, like basket weaving, knitting, carpentry, or calligraphy that the manufacturing age is wiping out.
- If you have a skill, go to an assisted living home and share it. This can be music, dance, storytelling, energy healing – anything!
- Make a family scrapbook with the seniors in your family. Record their memories so that they live on.
- Observe Ancestor Day. Restore the connection between the living and dead.
- When your elders pass, include them in your ancestor shrine.
- Use photos of the elderly in your social media. Show them in a positive light.
- Share your positive stories of your older family members with others. Shine a light on them.
- If possible and healthy, ask the grandparents to provide childcare for your kids so that they grow up with family instead of strangers.
- Live on ancestral land so that the elders, you, and your children have a connection to and support of the Earth.
- Plan for your elder years. Moving into it consciously makes it just another part of life.
- Make friends with people who are younger and older. Create a new comfort zone.
- When you see stereotypes, or if you are a victim of ageism, call it out! We’re all guilty of ageism. It was taught to us. When you know better, you do better. We can all be better.
Ageism is just another way to separate us from each other. We can’t be whole when we feel estranged. So get connected. Love your people. Let them love you back.